What was the purpose behind God’s act of judgment? The answer helps determine the extent of the Genesis Flood.
The Lord’s dealings with Abraham over the destruction of Sodom show the boundaries He sets in dealing with reprobation.1 God promised Abram that if as few as ten righteous people could found there, He would withhold His judgment. As it turned out, God removed from Sodom the one redeemable person and offered shelter to his family before pouring out His righteous wrath.2 At the same time, God allowed the nearby Amorites to survive, as wicked as they were, “for the sin of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure.”3
In the New Testament the Apostle Paul’s description of reprobates conjures images of a moral cancer. “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”4
Just as a surgeon removes a malignant tumor to save a person’s life, likewise God acts decisively and precisely to remove a community that has become completely and irreparably malignant in order to save the larger “body” from spiritual death. Taking the analogy further, the nature and degree of moral degradation the divine Surgeon sees (as only He can) in a particular community determines His actions, specifically how much of the social “tissue” must be cut away and whether additional therapies will be needed in the aftermath of the surgery.
Defilement from reprobate living appears to gain a foothold and then spread in a noticeable order:
- throughout the sinful person’s being5
- then to progeny6 and others in the community
- then to the soulish animals in contact with them7
- then to material possessions8
- then to the land they inhabit9
So when God performs surgery, the procedure will be defined by the extent of the damage caused by the reprobation He sees. Unlike a human surgeon, God needs no safety margin. He works with perfect precision to cut away the malignancy, leaving healthy or reparable tissue in place.
That malignancy was evident at the time of Noah. Genesis records that for every person other than Noah and his family, “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Genesis adds, “All the people on earth had corrupted their ways” and were “full of violence.” Therefore, God determined to rescue Noah, his family, and his soulish animals from the deadly reprobation all around them—the people and their progeny, their soulish animals, and their material goods—and to cleanse the land they inhabited.
According to this theological perspective, the geographical extent of Noah’s Flood can be determined by the geographical extent of the human community and the soulish animals associated with it. The basis for interpreting Noah’s Flood as an event of less than global geographical proportions is that human civilization at that time lacked the motivation and the means (economic, technical, and otherwise) to colonize distant regions of the planet. Archeological evidence indicates that human habitation had not yet spread beyond the area in and around the juncture of three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe.10 Parasitic and DNA markers indicate the later, rapid spread of humanity from that single region to all of Earth’s landmasses.11
Genesis 11:1–9 tells us that even after the horrific Flood, people remained stubbornly resolute in disobedience to God’s command to “increase in number, fill the earth, and subdue it.”12 Instead, they set out to “build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”13
From a theological standpoint, no reason existed for God to deluge the whole of planet Earth. And the animals He brought to Noah for boarding on the Ark would have been pairs (multiple pairs in some cases) of creatures indigenous to the region (but as yet undefiled) and vital to the rapid re-establishment of the ecosystem and of civilization. Such an interpretation holds true to the text and true to the revealed character of our Creator and Savior.